Dr Haslam’s Approach & Background

Before any of Dr Haslam’s friends start criticizing me for looking at this aspect of the report may I explain that it is unavoidable since the field work for the report was conducted by Dr Haslam with no obvious oversight or support. The main body of data within the report consists of statements made by her with the only supporting evidence being her own experiences. As she begins the report with the following statement:

I am a clinical psychologist who lived in the Nagarjuna Kadampa Meditation Centre in Northamptonshire between November 2016 and June 2018. I have decided to write this report based on what I observed and experienced during this time, the conclusions I have drawn since leaving, and the testimonies of other ex-members of this group.

Dr Michelle Haslam

Her principle data is therefore first person fieldwork with additional supporting data drawn from self-reporting ex-members. No data has been included from current members so all data is from people who have become dissatisfied by the organization she is studying.

Clearly her research is qualitative and as such is open to influence from bias much more than quantitative research. In such circumstances one would be expected to construct a methodology to try and minimize bias as much as possible yet Dr Haslam gives the reader little insight into any efforts she has made to avoid this flaw.

Structure and Support

In deciding to research an organization from a first person perspective one would usually have a group of people outside the organization fully briefed on the study to try to keep the researcher as objective as possible. Such an approach was taken by Leon Festinger; Henry W. Riecken; Stanley Schachter (1956) in their study of a group called The Seekers.

Festinger and his colleagues devised a methodology which would enable him to enter the group as if he was a member and keep notes of his experiences. Importantly they also had systems in place for him to be able to review his position with Riecken and Schachter so they could pull him out if he was losing his objectivity.

The study helped form the basis of Festinger’s most well known work, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957). Ironically Dr Haslam often uses the term cognitive dissonance in her report whilst choosing not ignore the very methodology that helped establish its existence it in the first place.

Recklessness, Negligence, or Failure?

Although Dr Haslam makes bold claims about her ability to write this report she bases them solely on her professional title, not on any scientific basis such as sound methodology or collaborative support from other psychologists.

Due to my profession, I am able to comment from a psychological perspective and to add relevant references.

Dr Michelle Haslam

Did Dr Haslam choose to live in the New Kadampa Tradition as a researcher with a clearly defined hypothesis to study? No.

Did Dr Haslam have the support of at least one other psychologist to co-author the report and vouch for the methodology? No.

Clearly Dr Haslam had no intention of studying the New Kadampa Tradition from a psychological perspective when she joined them so she decided to study them after she left which raises concerns as to the clarity of her recollections of events. If there was no defined methodology going in there would be no data from first hand notes written objectively at the time and there would be no oversight to ensure Dr Haslam remained objective and impartial.

Any peer-review at this point would be asking why Dr Haslam was now studying the New Kadampa Tradition from a psychological perspective and what events led to this decision. The report doesn’t give the reasons, but in other statements Dr Haslam has given the reasons are apparent.

A Jilted Lover

To clarify the situation, I was experiencing anxiety because I was sharing a dharma centre with an ex boyfriend with narcissistic traits who was flirting with vulnerable working visitors in front of me, and I had urges to move out. In hindsight, my body was telling me that something was very wrong with this setup being enabled. In the end it told me through panic attacks because I continued to ignore my intuition.

Dr Michelle Haslam

It is quite normal to have feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety when your ex-lover tries to make you jealous by flirting with people in front of you. To write a psychological report about the organization that ex-lover works for though is an extreme response. Dr Haslam has stated previously she felt healthy and happy prior to her relationship breakdown, therefore readers can deduce that she chose to live in a ‘dharma centre’ for personal reasons and it was the relationship breakdown and her ex-lover’s treatment of her which triggered her problems with the organization.

Throughout the report Dr Haslam refers to post-traumatic stress disorder or symptomology of the PTSD type in her experiences and those of other ex-members. She claims that it is the organization itself which is the cause of this symptomology manifesting in ex-members. In her own case Dr Haslam cites no traumatic incident other than her relationship breakdown. We are only left with the obvious conclusion that her anxiety and PTSD symptomology was brought about by her ex-lover, not by the organization.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

During the time period that I worked on this report I was struggling with complex post-traumatic stress symptoms of my own linked to involvement with the NKT.

Dr Michelle Haslam

My nervous system is exhausted. I have continually triggered myself for months on end. It’s been very healing but now my nervous system is absolutely wrecked.

Dr Michelle Haslam – courtesy of YouTube

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t include complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a separate disorder from PTSD which is most likely why Dr Haslam refers to having the ‘symptoms’ of complex PTSD since you can only be diagnosed with PTSD. Her use of the prefix ‘complex’ however gives further insight into her mental state whilst making the decision to write the report and the lens through which she recalls events and their significance.

Whereas PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that arises due to one significant event or series of events within the same timeframe, symptoms of complex PTSD arise due to several, usually unconnected events throughout a much longer time period. Because the symptoms are very close to Borderline Personality Disorder health professionals often diagnose it as BPD.

Did Dr Haslam Have an Earlier Trauma?

This may seem an unfair question yet if we are to validate her claim that the New Kadampa Tradition was the cause of her PTSD we need to establish she had no prior significant trauma. Due to the structure of her fieldwork, namely that her own experiences form a primary data set her own mental health background is a valid consideration.

In 2002 Dr Haslam’s father Jeffrey Haslam died from cancer aged just 49. This may have been a short illness or a protracted illness, no details are given. Of relevance is the fact that Dr Haslam was just 14 years old at the time. There is a significant body of work that shows this age is particularly formative for females in terms of a wide variety of psychiatric disorders such as body dysmorphia, eating disorders such as anorexia, and PTSD.

In fact Dr Haslam’s own doctoral thesis is entitled ‘Interpersonal functioning and eating-related psychopathology’ and her thesis for her doctorate in clinical psychology is entitled ‘Emotional expression and psychological wellbeing in cancer survivors’.

I find it difficult to believe that Dr Haslam is unaware as to the effect of the trauma of losing her father at such an early age may have had on her given the areas of her previous research. The effects of such a loss can be a cause of PTSD as explored by Liz Hall in her article for the University of Texas ‘Overcoming PTSD after losing my mom to melanoma‘, and Nadine M. Melhem, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In addition, Dr Romeo Vitelli writing in Psychology Today ‘When a Child Loses a Parent‘ states:

Based on attachment theory, researchers suggest that children dealing with prolonged grief from losing a parent are vulnerable to long-term emotional problems due to their failure to resolve their sense of loss. This can include being prone to  symptoms of depression, being more anxious and withdrawn, showing more problems in school, and poorer academic performance than non-bereaved children. Also, for many of these children, this can mean later difficulty in the developmental experiences  necessary for successful intimate relationships.

Dr Romeo Vitelli – Courtesy of Psychology Today

Who or What Caused Dr Haslam’s Complex PTSD?

I don’t claim to know Dr Haslam’s state of mind, but based on her own statements and self-diagnosis I find it very difficult to conclude that the New Kadampa Tradition played any significant part in the recurrence of her PTSD. It may simply have been the environment in which she was living at the time she experienced the true cause of its recurrence, the breakdown of her relationship.

It seems a far more likely scenario that due to the trauma of her father’s terrible illness and losing him at an early age she developed PTSD. In her relationship breakdown whilst living within the New Kadampa Tradition the trauma of that event and her attempts to deal with it led to another incidence of PTSD.

Dr Haslam refers to her father having suffered from a mental disorder as well as cancer and this gives further evidence to support the theory that her relationship with her father was a traumatizing influence in her early life:

You were right about one thing
I only put up with your shit
Because of my dad
But not because of his death
Because he was ‘mad’

Dr Michelle Haslam

If, as Dr Haslam claims, her father was suffering from a clinically diagnosed mental disorder it would indicate she was exposed to two separate types of trauma inducing stressors in early life, both related to the primary male figure in her development. It isn’t a significant stretch of the imagination to surmise this would lead to a predisposition in future relationships to experience a recurrance of this type of trauma, especially in situations of abandonment or rejection.

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